Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Military service weighted with sacrifice

Wick's World


I never celebrate Veterans Day, instead, I remember. I consider all wars to be a failure of humanity to peacefully co-existence. There are no winners or losers. What remains from wars are the men and women who bravely serve their country. These are the people we remember and not just the soldiers.

In World War II, many men and women contributed to the war effort serving stateside — my father among them. Following a failed physical, he was sent home with black lung that he got from 10 years of unloading railroad cars filled with coal. Only 20 years old, the doctors assured him he would be dead by age 35. He did die of black lung, at age 85.

My father did not shirk his duty, however. He went to the shipyards in Oakland, California, where he aided the war effort as a civilian. Three of my uncles served in World War II. Orgene Peterson and Seraphine Turgeon were sailors while Uncle Leo Hoffer was a combat infantryman. Leo saw such horrible combat and dying that he refused to talk about it. The only thing he ever said was, “My sergeant saved my life many times.”

My next door neighbor, John Duffy, served in Korea, what became known as the "forgotten war."

Another uncle, Bobby Hoffer, served in the Army in Alaska where he learned carpentry. Following discharge, he came back home and eventually started his own construction company. I also learned from the Army. It taught me two things — No. 1, I learned how to jump out of airplanes and No. 2, like many veterans, I took advantage of the GI Bill and earned a college degree.

For all of its advantages, military service is heavily weighted with sacrifice. Not only are you separated from loved ones for long periods of time, the mental and physical toll is often beyond pale. Too often, current veterans from the Iraq and Afghan War have returned missing limbs and acquiring post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They share with all soldiers the culprit known as PTSD, or as it was called in World War II, shell shock.

For my generation, a major physical culprit from war was the effects from Agent Orange that rained upon the countryside. Many fellow soldiers spoke of commonly getting drenched from the defoliant that denuded the land. For thousands of Vietnam vets, the ill effects often only showed up 30-40 years later. My good friend, TZ, was the first Minnesotan to be publicly recognized by the military as having died from the poisonous effects of Agent Orange.

Today, I remember our Moose Lake veterans who died shortly after graduating from high school. Moises Langhorst and Matt Milczark, we will never forget you. Every year I honor a real American hero who was given the Medal of Honor, Dale Wayrynen from McGregor, who is the brother of one of my best friends. Dale sacrificed his life and saved his squad by jumping on a live grenade on May 18, 1967, at Duc Pho, South Vietnam.

One of the largest and most deadly of all killers in war often happens after combat is over. Most of us cannot and do not recognize the pain of war that leads to suicide. Vietnam veterans have died by their own hand more often than died in combat. Tragically, the figures for Iraq and Afghan War veterans are as bad and getting worse.

I honor all those living and dead who served their country in one manner or another. I dedicate this Veterans Day column to my good friend and highly decorated war hero, Jacob George, who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. After spending the past several years counseling returning war veterans, on September 17, 2014, he died by his own hand. He just couldn’t take it anymore.


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